Top 10 Favorite Hip-Hop Songs of 2013

It’s always refreshing to look back and appreciate quality hip-hop music that comes out, especially since nowadays it becomes harder to filter out the garbage.  Now that 2013 is over, here is my list of Top 10 Favorite Hip-Hop Songs of that year.  The simple criteria is that I bumped these tracks in my car more than any other hip-hop songs… makes sense, right?

Note: The following list is presented chronologically and not as a ranked list.  Continue reading

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Why Kendrick Lamar’s “Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City” Album Is A Classic


It’s been one year since Kendrick Lamar released his major label debut album Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, and since then the hip-hop community has branded it as an undisputed classic.  On top of that, I would say it’s one of the most important hip-hop albums to ever be released.  In most cases, when a well-respected independent rapper signs to a major label, we expect him or her to adjust styles in order to appeal more to a mainstream audience.  This has traditionally applied to anyone recruited by the mighty Dr. Dre (see: Snoop Dogg, Eminem, 50 Cent).  When Kendrick Lamar signed to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label, there was plenty of excitement yet nervousness among overly dedicated fans in regards to how this would affect his style of music.  Fortunately, many including myself could not have predicted just how much Kendrick would reach success on his own terms.

If there is one word I can use to describe Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, it is “uncompromising”.  While the album is certainly a classic for its vivid lyricism and top notch production, this came to no surprise.  After all, Kendrick had already showcased these qualities through previous indie label releases (Overly Dedicated and Section.80).  Rather, there are 2 other aspects about Good Kid, M.A.A.D City that impressed me just as much:  Continue reading

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Happy 20th Anniversary to Black Moon’s “Enta Da Stage” Album

There’s a good reason why the first track off my Impressions album is a tribute to Black Moon.  If you ask a hip-hop junkie to list the most important artists to contribute to the 90s hip-hop renaissance, only a n00b would forget to include Black Moon (consisting of Buckshot, 5ft and DJ Evil Dee).

When I was a young teen and first heard Black Moon’s now-classic album Enta Da Stage, my ears immediately gravitated to its concrete blend of raw, gritty lyricism over funky, jazz beats.  As I write this, I’m listening to the album from beginning to end, and I’m reminded why The Source magazine chose it as one of the 100 Best Rap Albums Ever.

With that said, TODAY marks 20 years since Black Moon’s “Enta Da Stage” graced our cassette, CD, and record players.  I’m glad I got to see the crew perform the album at Rock The Bells two years ago.  Of course, their video above is what inspired my live instrumental tribute below:

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Worst Beat-Jacking Song Ever

Beat-Jacking ComicHave you ever heard a case of beat-jacking that made you cringe?  I usually shrug off songs that lack originality, but once in a blue moon I hear a song that forces me to ask what the hell the producer was thinking.  I’m sure that money (or laziness) talks in most cases, so if a producer is going to obtain secondary gain from biting another beat, then more power to them.  However, as producers it’s important to respect another’s hustle, which is why the majority of us do not bite someone else’s work as an “easy way out”.

To make it easier on the brain, every producer should simply listen to their gut feeling.  Does it feel like you’re doing something wrong or not?  This question especially applies toward the act of remaking a classic hip-hop record.  If you’re going to do that, it’s best to know what your intention and approach will be so that you don’t get accused of spitting in the face of the original track.  Fortunately, it’s quite rare for songs to completely jack the creativity from another song, because most of us know better.  But when people ask me what I think is the worst beat-jacking song ever, one immediately comes to mind.  Continue reading

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What Is Biting? A Simple Definition

biting“Biting” is quite a broad term, often overused.  It is never used in a positive way to describe a song, and nobody ever wants to be accused of it.  Every producer has his or her own thoughts of what constitutes biting.  I often hear from others that the worst case involves the act of looping a sample that has already been looped before.  However, this does not always equal biting.

Remember, many of hip-hop’s greatest songs contain samples that were already used by previous hip-hop songs.  In 1995, rapper Tupac Shakur’s critically-hailed song “Dear Mama” contained a basic loop from Joe Sample’s 1978 song “In All My Wildest Dreams”.  This loop had actually been used earlier by rap group Arrested Development in their 1994 song “Africa’s Inside Me”.  Did anyone knock Tupac’s “Dear Mama” for using the same sample?  No, because “Dear Mama” put a different spin on the sample in terms of melodic arrangement, drums, etc.  In fact, Tupac’s song has a much more meaningful place in music history today compared to Arrested Development’s song, which further exonerates the producer of “Dear Mama” from accusations of biting.

So what is “biting” in the producing world, exactly?  Let me present two hypothetical scenarios to differentiate between non-biting and biting:   Continue reading

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Does Sampling Take Skill?

It’s been about six months since I felt the mood to write something here.  I think that dry-spell ended with a brief e-mail exchange from last week with an old acquaintance named Terrell.  Terrell has long upheld the belief that sampling in hip-hop does NOT require skill.

To give a little background, I first met Terrell a decade ago in college after we both enrolled in a Latin ethnomusicology course offered by the legendary Herb Alpert’s School of Music.  On the first day of class in an auditorium packed with nearly 300 students, Terrell decided to sit directly in front of me with and block my view of the professor on stage.  I was annoyed at first, but then he won points by turning around and complimenting my Thelonious shirt.  We struck up a conversation, and I learned that Terrell played saxophone in a jazz band.  Although Terrell nodded in approval after learning that I played the piano, he quickly rolled his eyes once I mentioned my involvement in hip-hop.  Continue reading

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J Dilla Changed My Life

Six years ago, the entire hip-hop community was stunned and saddened by the death of James Dewitt Yancey, better known as J Dilla.  The legendary producer had passed away due to severe complications of a rare blood disease.  He was only 32 years old.  Since his untimely death, thousands of fans and musicians alike have been caught wearing a black T-shirt with the phrase “J DILLA CHANGED MY LIFE” in large white font.  This phrase perfectly describes how J Dilla’s music not only touched millions of listeners, but also influenced a countless number of artists.  For example, Kanye West referred to Dilla as a “drum god” back in 2003, and Pharrell Williams enthusiastically declared Dilla as his favorite producer in 2004.  To me, J Dilla is more than just my favorite producer of all-time.  He is one of the reasons why I began listening to hip-hop in the first place, which then led me to become a producer, and so forth.  This all began 15 years ago.  Wow, I’m getting old… and since old people like to tell long stories, I’m going to talk about how “J Dilla changed my life”.   Continue reading

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